Understanding Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law established in 1994. It is intended to protect the victims of domestic violence. In addition to other functions, it helps people who have been victims of battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members get green cards so that they can remain in the United States legally.
Despite its name, it actually can protect people of any gender or age who have experienced abuse. So, if you’re a man who was abused by your wife, you could still seek protection under VAWA. Many Washington state residents also don’t realize that it protects victims of abuse beyond just physical violence. That means if your abuser never physically touched you, but emotionally abused you, threatened you, etc. you can still seek protection under VAWA. You must simply prove that there was “extreme cruelty” at play.
Immigrants Deserve Protections from Domestic Violence and Exploitation
Like many American citizens, foreign nationals can become trapped in an abusive relationship with their spouses, fiancés, or family members. This could occur through threats of never getting their green card application petitions filed or completed, or by threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport them.
It is natural for non-citizens to have anxiety or fear about reporting domestic abuse they have endured. Getting law enforcement in communities throughout Snohomish or King County involved may mean answering sensitive personal questions or having your current immigration status scrutinized. At ZafiroLaw, we have firsthand experience with these situations and completely empathize with the terror and pain you are suffering because of your abuser.
There is hope for your situation as an immigrant married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder. If you are subjected to domestic violence, you could qualify for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Even if you have already gotten divorced, there is a good chance you still qualify for benefits under this act, as do your children if abused.
How has Congress Increased Protections for Immigrants Victimized by Domestic Violence?
Over the past thirty years, the United States Congress has made great strides in increasing protections for immigrants who are domestic violence victims. One of the earliest steps taken was the “battered spouse waiver” created by The Immigration Reform Act of 1990. This provision made it possible for victims with a conditional permanent residency status due to marriage to a U.S. citizen to apply for removal of their conditionality without the required assistance of their abusive spouse.
In 1994, another act, The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), became further inclusive and allowed immigrant domestic violence victims to self-petition for independent immigration relief from their abusive family member or spouse. Six years later, The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000), was updated to include additional immigration relief options for victimized noncitizens. The “U” Visa was introduced for abused immigrants, and those who were sexually abused or trafficked could obtain a “T” Visa.
When legislators failed to reauthorize the bill in 2019, many immigrants worried they had no way to get relief. Fortunately, all of VAWA’s provisions are still in full force because it does not contain a sunset clause that would set an expiration date.
Who Does VAWA Protect?
If you need the benefits provided under VAWA immigrant protections, one of the following experiences should apply to your situation:
- You have endured battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or ex-spouse.
- You have endured battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident son or daughter.
- You have endured battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent if you are 21 or younger. If you can prove that the delay in filing was caused by the abuse, you can file until you are 25.
How to Petition for VAWA Protections in Washington
If you qualify, you can self-petition for a green card under VAWA. You do not have to inform the person who abused you that you are filing and your information will be kept private. To file your self-petition, you will need to provide evidence of the abuse, proof that you shared a residence with the abuser, evidence of good moral character, and other forms. An experienced VAWA attorney can help you with your paperwork and documentation and can help you avoid mistakes in the process that could endanger your status.
Who Can Help Me?
You must understand that domestic abuse can happen in countless ways to the most loving of people. If you are a foreign national that is being controlled by abusive tactics involving threats of calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or having your immigration papers and passports taken away, or by physical violence, you have options.
At ZafiroLaw, we are a Seattle-based law practice that has extensive experience helping clients petition for green cards under VAWA. If you think you may qualify, we encourage you to give us a call. You can reach us at (206) 547-9906. We serve communities throughout Snohomish County and King County, Washington.